Korean ballet fans will have one last chance to see Kang Sue-jin, principal dancer for Germany's Stuttgart Ballet, perform "The Lady of the Camellias" this month. The ballet based on the tragic novel by Alexandre Dumas will be staged in Seoul for three days from June 15 through 17 at the Sejong Center or the Performing Arts.
"I won't be able to perform the entire work again, and it's hard for the Stuttgart Ballet to visit Korea often," said Kang, who appeared composed despite the tone of finality in her voice during an interview that took place in downtown Seoul on Tuesday. The ballet is being performed in the capital for the first time in a decade.
Kang last performed in Korea in 2008 when she appeared in "Romeo and Juliet." But she said the curtain is not yet closing on her storied career.
"I only think about retirement when I get asked about it by journalists. I don't know when I'll retire," said Kang. "It's good to make long-term plans, but I tend to focus more on the here and now. Even tomorrow is far away."
She will perform the role of Marguerite Gautier, a courtesan in 19th century Paris, with partner Marijn Rademaker as Armand Duval. They are considered the couple that best represents the style of the Stuttgart Ballet. For the performance on June 17, another Korean dancer, Kang Hyo-jung, who joined the troupe in 2004 and was promoted to a principal dancer this season, will play the role of Manon Lescaut.
"The Lady of the Camellias" has a special place in Kang's heart, having landed her the prestigious Benois De La Danse prize -- dubbed the Oscar of the ballet world -- in 1999. She was the first Asian to win the coveted honor.
"It is one of the most beautiful works in ballet history. The dramatic and tragic story works perfectly with Chopin's music and choreography. 'The Lady of the Camellias' is a dream job for any ballerina. No one would regret accepting this role," said Kang.
Kang is often described as a dance machine for her strict and rigorous training regime. This has left her without an ounce of flab so that even size-zero dresses do not fit her.
"The reason why I can still dance at my age  is because I've led a simple life," she said. "Once I wake up, I start going through my dance moves, even if I don't feel in the mood. It becomes habitual, and I keep doing it until I'm satisfied that it's perfect."
She said that, as a dancer, it's important to always face up to your weaknesses, while also acknowledging your strengths.
"If you aren;t being honest with yourself, you can't create art. There are people who just go through the motions, but that kind of dancing doesn't leave a lasting impression."